Working Through Dialogue

by jeanineoloughlin

Thinking Through My Fingers

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov

If you’re writing fiction you’re going to have characters in your stories, and characters communicate. This means dialogue. Dialogue is one of the keys to making characters feel real and grounded in some form of “reality.” I’ve heard a lot of my fellow writers complain that dialogue is the hardest part of writing to them. For me, dialogue has to “sound” right and work within the scene I’m literally imagining in my head. When I’m writing a scene I imagine it like a movie, the advantage being that I get to see the movie played from multiple perspectives. I can see every movement the characters make and every line they speak. I think this comes from my theatre days when I was in high school, which was the same time I moved from writing brooding poetry into short stories.

An exercise that I put myself through when I’m struggling with any piece of dialogue is I act it out. I read through the lines as if I were doing a theatre read-through. If the line can’t come out naturally then I know it needs work. Sometimes forcing yourself to actually speak the words you’re putting in your character’s mouth helps you find the stumbling blocks. This is also how I work out the acting within the story. I know where I want the characters to pause, emphasize a word, sigh, gasp, grunt or any other wordless expressions. I can do that through acting it out.

If you’ve never had to do any kind of acting before this may come off as awkward for you to do. If you find reading out loud is not something you’re comfortable with try just mouthing it. Again it’s the motion of forming the words and finding where you’re running out of breath, what words just don’t fit. You know your characters better than anyone, so you know how they’re supposed to sound and what they’re trying to express, or not express. I think it’s important to put yourself in their shoes as much as possible to really get the best from them.

Happy Writing!